What is the Distance in Olympic Archery?

I am one of those folks that spend time watching Archery competitions more than any other sports during the Olympics. The sport was introduced to the Olympics is 1900 but after 1920 it was excluded from the Olympics until 1972 (52 years). Olympic archery target distance is determined by the World Archery Federation, which is the recognized governing body for all archery and Olympic rules.

Generally, in target archery, athletes shoot at stationary targets at varying distances, using bows such as recurves, barebow, compound, and longbow.  An archer can either be a junior (archer under 18 years) or a senior.

Distance in Olympic Archery

One question many people interested in Olympic archery ask is “how far is an Olympic target”. The appropriate Olympic archery target distance is 77 yards or 70 m away from the athlete. These circular targets are sometimes called butts and are positioned north of the archer.

The butts are usually placed in a line 4 to 6 yards apart from one another.  A flag is placed on at least every 3 butts in the line to indicate the direction of the wind. A 30 cm by 30 cm paper with a specific number is sometimes hung at the bottom of each butt. Each target in the Olympic has 122 cm diameter face and its dead center is 130 cm above the ground.

Additionally, the butt is often tilted backward 15 degrees from the vertical.  For other non-Olympic competitions butt face sizes vary from 40 cm to 80 cm. Athletes see different things as they draw the string and look through the sight.

How Olympic Archery Works

You can only compete in the Olympics if you have a recurve bow. So you might have to throw your DIY bow in the trash and buy yourself a recurve. The recurve bow is an improved version of bows that have been used since ancient times.

What makes recurves special is their limbs that curve away from the archer and a riser, which is where the archer grips the bow.  Recurves called Take-downs have removable limbs that can be upgraded or replaced. During the tournament, an archer needs to hold the riser in the grip and draw the string back to their face positioning their drawing hand under their chin as they aim.

The front sight helps archers aim accurately and a finger tab helps to protect their finger from the string. An arrow rest helps to position the arrow before the archer shoots. The archer focuses on landing the arrow into the center scoring ring of the target.

There are 10 concentric scoring rings on the butt separated into five colors. Each ring an athlete strikes has its own points.  If you land the arrow into the inner gold ring, you get 10 points. You score eight or seven points if you hit the red ring and five or six points for the blue color.  

Black offers you three points while white one or two points.

Olympic Archery Competition Procedure

olympic archery team USAJust like in most other sports there is a procedure that whittles down the number of competitors in every stage until only two teams or a few athletes remain to compete for the trophy.

Qualification stage tournament

For the qualification round, you have to 6 ends of 72 arrows, which you have to shoot at a distance of 70 meters. The maximum score you can achieve at this round is 720.  At the end of the round the total scores of the athletes is added to rank the athletes from one to 64 and they then proceed to the elimination stage. Here there are elimination matches between the seeds and the winner gets to progress.

Elimination stage/ Individual Competition

In the elimination stage, two athletes compete against each other and the loser leaves the competition. The winner advances to the next stage and the process continues until only two athletes remain to contest the gold medal final. But the athletes that lost in the semifinal stage get to compete with each other for the bronze.

The set system is used to decide who among the athletes will get to proceed in individual matches.  In the elimination rounds, there are up to 3 sets of 6 arrows while in the finals 5 sets of 3 arrows.  In finals, each athlete is limited to three arrows and whoever between the two gets the highest score with their three arrows gets two points.

If the two athletes tie, they each receive one set points. But whoever gets to 6 points first wins the match.


There are also team competitions in archery where each team has three athletes. These athletes have to be of the same gender and should be from the same nation. The total score of the athletes in a team is used to rank them from one to 12. They are then seeded according to their rank and they get to move to the knock-out stages.

The team matches are decided using the set system. But here each set consists of six arrows not three. If your team gets the highest score in a set, you receive two points.  If your team ties with the other team, each team receives one point.


The official Olympics archery target distance is 70 meters away from the archers but in other archery competitions, the distances may vary.

The distance of the target in other archery competitions depends on:

  • The size of the target
  • Whether the competition is indoor or outdoor
  • The competitive level of the archers
  • The sex of the archers

There is a lot more to learn about archery that we couldn’t include in this article. But if you have a question or have something to add, please do so in the comment section below.

Interested in making your own archery target or want to buy archery target

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